Eric Greenwald, president of Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, helped launch the brand in 2003 and has steered its growth to more than 40 locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Wisconsin and New York. Through fundraising initiatives, Grimaldi’s donated more than $192,000 to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry program in 2019, bringing the chain’s total fundraising efforts to more than $1 million since its partnership with the nonprofit began in 2013.
An industry veteran, Greenwald has also served as the chair of the National Restaurant Association’s Pizzeria Industry Council. We asked him to share his thoughts and advice for how pizzeria owners—independents and chains alike—can overcome the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic while staying connected with their customers. Here’s what he said:
PMQ: What are the key messages pizza restaurateurs should communicate to their customers right now?
Eric Greenwald: During this time of uncertainty, the key message that we want to communicate to our guests and to encourage other restaurateurs to communicate is that we are here—to support our community, partners and neighbors. We will continue to be a source of comfort and normalcy by pivoting our business model and transitioning to solely carryout and delivery to ensure the wellness of our consumers. Above all else, the health and safety of our guests and employees are of greatest importance to us at Grimaldi’s, and we look forward to welcoming our guests back to our dining rooms in the near future.
PMQ: How can pizzeria operators maintain top-of-mind presence with social media during this difficult period?
Greenwald: Social media has always been a key component in connecting with guests and providing instant updates about our pizzerias—and it is more important now than ever before. Tools such as Instagram Live can be a great resource to engage customers who cannot interact fully with their favorite brands and restaurants. For pizza operators, this could include offering virtual cooking classes and pizza-wine pairing suggestions, virtual tours around the property, promoting a “pizza of the day” to encourage pick up orders and more. More than ever, customers are looking to connect. By showing the behind-the-scenes, the authenticity of the company will stand out above regular posts to create and display a human element online.
How can restaurants demonstrate that they are good corporate citizens who care about their community? What should they be doing to help?
Greenwald: At Grimaldi’s, our goal has been to take immediate action to ensure the health of our communities by following all of the government guidelines. That should be a company’s top concern. In addition, great customer service will go a long way to continue building trust and rapport with the brand they are interacting with. Continue to encourage your staff to provide an outstanding experience by engaging in conversation, having a friendly attitude, over-communicating orders. etc. At Grimaldi’s, we are all about quality—quality service, quality food and more. Additionally, pizza companies should also be looking for ways to support local organizations through charity partnerships. Every year we partner with the organization, No Kid Hungry, to help eliminate child hunger, and we will be as involved as ever during the current pandemic to assist in supporting children affected by school closures that are in need of meals.
PMQ: What are the biggest mistakes to avoid when pizzeria owners can fully reopen, including their dine-in services?
Greenwald: One of the biggest mistakes is not taking time now to plan and prepare for reopening. Think about all the things you will need to get in place to open and create a reopening check list to make sure you cover all the necessary steps. We’ll also be operating in a new environment, so understand and estimate where consumer confidence will be. Look around your area to see how many others will be reopening. Will you be one of few or one of many? This will determine the level of demand you should expect. Maintain great communication with all your vendors because you will need their partnership and support to get up and running. If you have multiple locations, start making a list prioritizing which location(s) to open first. And just like any opening, you may be adding new members to your team, so plan to have properly trained staff. Planning and timing will be the key to a successful reopening plan.